A pamanhikan for two men
In March 2013, a Filipino-American's screenplay bested hundreds of international entries in the Vail Film Festival. Angelo Santos, a native of New Jersey, uneventfully accepted his Best Screenplay Short award, pretty much unknown to the Philippines or to the Fil-Am community. Along with his award, Angelo also carried with him the plot of his screenplay - the first meeting of the parents of two men who are engaged to be married.
The Vail Film Festival is not a Filipino, Asian-American, or LGBT festival. Open to films from all over the world, the citation from Vail was first met with Angelo's shock. After the news sunk in, he felt proud that a film based on Filipino tradition and same-sex marriage actually had a reach outside immigrant and gay communities. Aside from validating him as a writer, the award gave him the necessary push he needed to get the film made.
Angelo's film is called Pamanhikan, the traditional Filipino meal where the parents of an engaged couple meet to give their children their formal blessing. Starring Eric Elizaga, John Arcilla, Arianne Recto, Patrick Cooley, Julia Campanelli and Bill Hoag, the film blends the concepts of tradition, family, Catholicism, Filipino-American immigrants, and same-sex marriage into a 30-minute comedy about the equally conflicted families of the two men who bravely decided to have their parents under the same roof to share what turns out to be a comical meal.
Write what you know
Angelo actually didn't set out to combine the cultures he grew up with as a Catholic church-going, rice-eating, American TV-watching gay boy in his film. Instead he simply wrote what he knew. When he finished writing the script, he realized that the result was actually a product of his separate cultures unintentionally brought together, much like the two families in the film were forced to interact and sort out their differences.
In a way, the film echoes Angelo's sentiments as a Fil-Am gay man. It illustrates the typical denial of Filipino families when it comes to their gay children. In his own life, Angelo has always felt that his parents knew about him but never addressed it. It was only during the production of this film that he revealed himself to his family. There was no big speech or weepy family meeting. Instead, the Pamanhikan fundraiser became the confirmation everyone needed to no longer dodge the topic. Donations became Angelo's family's way of subtly expressing their validation and support, and his father was the first to make a pledge (something Angelo considers a small victory).
In the way that the film has pushed him completely out of the closet, Pamanhikan has also allowed Angelo to have important conversations with his family and friends. He hopes that his film will also help create conversations between other gay people and their families. Especially in the Filipino community, there are still many who feel that their families will shun them for being gay. Angelo hopes that the film will help address questions between parents and children, and between gay men and women and their friends and relatives, and present same-sex relationships as realities that can no longer be denied.
On gay marriage
Pamanhikan is coming out when marriage equality is a controversial topic as it is now legal in 19 out of 50 US States and is set to be tackled again by the US Supreme Court this year. I asked Angelo if the legalization of same-sex marriage forces the reality of gay relationships on our families, especially when as a culture Filipinos tend to sweep many things under the rug.
Angelo had this to say about being faced with the reality of same-sex marriage:
"Legalization brings our relationships out in the open. There are people in our families who still believe our relationships are immoral. Deep in their hearts, they still believe we're in some kind of phase. They have their opinions for their own reasons. But when our loving relationships are legalized and legitimized by law, it forces them to realize that this phase is not going to go away, because marriage is supposed to be forever. And then it forces them to ask: how can our relationships be immoral when the law of marriage, which is equated with love, recognizes it? The law recognizes our relationships as love."
Angelo's film opens a window into what happens when convention and tradition face the prospect of a marriage that is still unconventional in many respects. In Pamanhikan (as in all same-sex marriages), there is a redefinition of traditional roles within in families. All parties must come to a compromise within themselves and with each other to reconcile their old ideas of marriage with its modern inclusive form.
In this particular film, both sets of parents were struggling with the idea that since there is a groom, one of their sons must be the bride - later on accepting that the point of marriage is love, regardless of the genders of either party.
At the end of our conversation, I asked Angelo what advice he could give younger LGBT Filipinos who are still seeking the approval of their families. He had this to say:
"Stay true to yourselves. Learn patience because acceptance and approval take time. Maintain your friendships with gay and straight friends because those friendships are the support you need outside your family. Keep respecting your elders even if they don't approve of who you are. If you want their respect and their approval, you need to respect them as well. With that respect, in time, the approval will come."
To Angelo, the concept of a pamanhikan is the coming together of people of different backgrounds to talk to each other, listen to each other, and get to know one another and enjoy each other's company.
In a way, the process by which we come out to people we love is an invitation to a pamanhikan - a gathering where our family and friends can get to know us, and where we can listen to what everyone has to say, instead of asking them to adhere to what we want them to be.
Where to watch Pamanhikan
Pamanhikan is a small independent production and needs all the help it can get. You may support this film by making a donation via Indiegogo. Certain donation amounts will entitle donors to perks such as as a digital download or a DVD of the film, a writing workshop, or more. The fundraising campaign ends on October 10.
The film is currently in its final stages of production and will first be submitted to film festivals all over the world. After the festival run in the Spring of 2015, it may be available online.
Watch the trailer for Pamanhikan:
Shakira Andrea Sison is a two-time Palanca-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her non-working hours writing stories in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Her column appears on Thursdays. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison and on Facebook.